Gridiron Australia targets NRL, AFL and netball stars as potential Olympic flag football recruits
Australian sports could witness a remarkable fusion as flag football, a non-contact variant of gridiron, is set to make its Olympic debut at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. In an exciting twist, athletes from prominent leagues like the NRL, AFL and Super Netball are being implored to embrace a new challenge as Australia vies for Olympic glory by enlisting talent from various sporting disciplines.
Gridiron Australia’s CEO, Wade Kelly, expressed his enthusiasm for this innovative development, emphasising the flexibility that flag football offers.
“It‘s a 360 degree game, you’ve got to get down field, turn around and catch the ball. That’s AFL, that’s netball, that’s basketball. And then you throw in the league and union guys who are used to playing Oztag,” Kelly explains.
“Look at guys like Reece Walsh, how good would he be up against Tyreek Hill as a wide receiver. Patty Mills, amazing in the air. Guys like (Charlie) Curnow in the AFL, imagine him going up against some of those NFL superstars.
Congratulations and welcome to the 6 sports added to the Olympic programme for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics 💚💛@teamausbaseball | @softballoz | @cricketaus | @auslaxnet | @gridironaust @squashaus pic.twitter.com/rzL2U8ijfP
— AUS Olympic Team (@AUSOlympicTeam) October 17, 2023
“Then you look at the girls. Liz Watson in netball. Isabelle Kelly from rugby league has been a fantastic player, she would really adapt well to the sport. And then the AFL girls, you could take your pick.
“We’ve also got our own players who are doing really well for us at the moment, and we’ll bring extra athletes from other sports.”
Flag football, which shares similarities with gridiron but eliminates tackling, presents a dynamic playing style that aligns with various sports. Players must navigate the field, make agile turns and catch the ball – aspects familiar to AFL, netball, basketball, rugby league and rugby union athletes.
In NFL flag football, teams engage in five-on-five play with games typically consisting of two 20-minute halves. Tournament games are often shorter, featuring 12-minute halves. Instead of tackling, players wear flags on belts, which defenders aim to remove from ball carriers to stop their progress.
The NFL’s surging popularity in Australia has led to numerous crossovers with former AFL and rugby league stars venturing into the American gridiron league. Jordan Mailata made the transition from South Sydney Rabbitohs to Philadelphia Eagles and has played 51 games in the NFL, while NRL stars Valentine Holmes and Jarryd Hayne explored opportunities in the NFL with modest results. The prospect of competing against NFL stars is a dream come true for many Australian athletes.
Gridiron Australia has a rich history of fielding Australian representative teams for over four decades, but their flag football division only recently began competitive play in the past year. The NFL’s presence in Australia has played a pivotal role in promoting flag football through school programs, further fuelling its growth. Last year, 10 primary schools in Queensland and northern NSW participated, with the winning school earning a trip to Las Vegas to compete at the NFL’s Pro Bowl weekend in the international championships. This year, 84 schools are competing for that coveted title and the chance to experience the Pro Bowl festivities.
Flag football’s imminent introduction to the Olympic stage heralds a new era of cross-discipline athleticism, where the world’s finest athletes unite under a common banner. It’s a fusion of sportsmanship, agility and shared aspirations, igniting the Olympic flame with a new, vibrant intensity.
New to our page, got that Olympic fever and wondering how you can get involved in Flag Football?
There are competitions springing up right around the country – and they are all on the hunt for new players to join!
— Gridiron Australia (@GridironAust) October 18, 2023